A trucker from Texas recently caused a multicar pileup on I-70 near Denver that killed four people, injured four more, and involved at least 28 vehicles.
The trucker has now been charged with 40 criminal counts, including four counts of vehicular homicide, six counts of first-degree assault, and 24 counts of attempted first-degree assault for the other motorists involved in the accident. He was also charged with manslaughter.
Car accidents are an unfortunate reality, and thousands of Americans are killed every year on the road. So, why did this particular accident result in criminal charges?
The trucker was seen driving at an estimated speed of 85 mph, which is 40 mph faster than the recommended speed of 45 mph for the vehicle. He was also driving in a very reckless manner, swerving through traffic. Additionally, at the time of the crash, he was driving in the far right lane until he saw another semi parked on the shoulder and swerved into a line of cars to avoid it, causing the fiery 28-car pileup.
There’s no evidence that he was intoxicated at the time of the accident, but because the crash is alleged to be due to reckless driving and affected so many people, he’s facing criminal charges. If convicted, he could face decades in Colorado prison.
Here’s an interesting question, though: why was the driver charged with homicide for some of the offenses, but manslaughter for others? Although the result of all homicide offenses is the same tragic outcome, there’s a big difference between them.
The defendant can face very different consequences, ranging from the death penalty for the most serious murders to only a few years of imprisonment for some forms of manslaughter. What matters most in determining these charges is whether the defendant intended to kill the victim.
Below, we’re going to break down the various manslaughter and murder charges in Colorado, and the key difference between these related but very different charges.
Types of Colorado Murder Charges
In Colorado, intentional homicide is divided into two charges: Murder in the First Degree and Murder in the Second Degree.
Murder in the First Degree. This offense is reserved for the most heinous and violent homicide offenses. First-degree murder is defined as the intentional, deliberate, premeditated, and malicious killing of another. This means that the defendant wants to kill the victim, thinks about killing them, and then makes and executes a plan to kill them. In Colorado, first-degree murder is punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Murder in the Second Degree. The charge of second-degree murder applies when the defendant intentionally killed the victim, but some of the elements of first-degree murder are missing. This charge is also common in cases where there are mitigating circumstances, such as crimes of passion. This is punishable by 8-24 years in prison.
Types of Colorado Manslaughter Charges
Accidental homicides are generally charged as manslaughter, which is also broken down into different degrees of offenses.
Manslaughter. This charge applies to recklessly causing the victim’s death, intentionally causing the victim to commit suicide, or aiding the victim in the commission of suicide. In any case, manslaughter is considered a Class 4 felony and is punishable by 2-6 years in prison.
Criminally Negligent Homicide. This charge applies for recklessly causing the victim’s death by conduct that can be considered criminally negligent. This conduct is described as engaging in actions, or failing to act, in such a way as to create an unreasonably high risk of death to others.
This is a Class 5 Felony, which is punishable by 1-4 years in prison.
Vehicular Homicide. This occurs when the defendant causes the victim’s death by recklessly driving a vehicle, such as in the case we discussed above. This is a Class 4 Felony punishable by 2-6 years in prison unless the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, in which case this would be a Class 3 felony punishable by 4-12 years in prison.
So, again, why the different charges for the same act?
That is a very good question, and one the defendant’s attorney is likely to bring up.
In homicide crimes, the defendant’s intent is what determines the degree of charges. Aggravating factors (such as a particularly cruel intentional homicide) and mitigating factors (such as provocation by the victim) are also taken into account for murder and manslaughter crimes.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.